Archive for the Biography Category

Serpico

Posted in Biography, Crime, Drama with tags on June 16, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Sidney Lumet.
Screenplay: Waldo Salt, Norman Wexler.
Starring: Al Pacino, Tony Roberts, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe, Biff McGuire, Barbara Eda-Young, Cornelia Sharpe, John Medici, Alan Rich, Edward Grover, Norman Ornellas, James Tolkan, Richard Foronjy, John McQuade, M. Emmett Walsh, F. Murray Abraham, Kenneth McMillan, Tracey Walter, Judd Hirsch.

Frank, let’s face it, who can trust a cop that won’t take money?

With their second collaboration in 1974, Al Pacino and Sidney Lumet delivered one of the very best films of the decade with “Dog Day Afternoon“. It was a taut and captivating true-life story of a bank robber that gets way in over his head. Two years previously, though, they worked on another true-life story from the opposite side of the law. This time it was NYPD officer Frank Serpico and how he got way in over his head with police corruption rife all around him.

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Dallas Buyers Club

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on February 11, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Jean-Marc Vallée.
Screenplay: Craig Borten, Melissa Wallack.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Michael O’Neill, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne, Kevin Rankin, J.D. Evermore.

Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill fuckin’ Ron Woodroof in 30 days

There has been no better or more consistent actor over the last few years than that of Matthew McConaughey. It’s a fact! From someone who started a bright early career and worked with the likes of such quality directors as Richard Linklater, John Sayles, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, he soon drifted into the dreaded rom-com territory that’s no better than drifting into obscurity altogether. His reputation wasn’t amounting to his early promise and it seemed he would never recover. So when did it all go right for him then? Well, in 2011, he got back in tow with Linklater to do “Bernie” and followed that up with dark and blisteringly brave performances in William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe“, Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike“. It didn’t stop there, though. He continued his solid work in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” and a brief but excellent role in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf Of Wall Street” before finally delivering this awards laden performance in “Dallas Buyers Club“. The resurrection of his career is complete and McConaughey’s work has now, rightfully, gained the respect of critics and viewers alike.

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The Wolf Of Wall Street

Posted in Biography, Comedy, Crime, Drama with tags on January 27, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Terrence Winter.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Rob Reiner, Pj Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Ethan Suplee, Jake Hoffman, Joanna Lumley, Shea Whigham, Cristin Milioti, Leah Ebersole, Katarina Cas, Brian Sacca, Henry Zebrowski, Spike Jonze.

On a daily basis I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island, and Queens for a month. I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my “back pain”, Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine… Well, because it’s awesome“.

Although retirement may possibly be on the horizon for one of America’s finest directors, at age 71, Martin Scorsese certainly doesn’t look like he’s slowing down. If anything, he’s as racy as he’s ever been and shows as much energy as someone half his age. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” may not be his most original approach to filmmaking. We’ve seen all this before as it strongly resembles the structure and downfall of Henry Hill in “Goodfellas“. It does feel a little like he’s repeating himself here but it’s still entirely suitable for the story he’s relating. I can’t see how else he would have done it. If he’d played it more straight, it probably wouldn’t have worked. He had to be outrageous and for that, it’s most certainly amongst his funniest outings.

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Rush

Posted in Action, Biography, Drama, Sport with tags on January 22, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ron Howard.
Screenplay: Peter Morgan.
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jamie de Courcey, Pierfrancesco Favino, Natalie Dormer.

A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends“.

Before he became a director, Ron Howard was originally known for his acting as Richie Cunningham from “Happy Days” and that character seems to have plagued his career since. Howard can certainly resemble the character’s name in some ways; He makes production companies ‘rich’ and he most certainly delivers ‘ham’ but he lacks the ‘cunning’ to be the truly great director that he perceives himself to be. Please excuse the very poor puns but if Howard can get away with as many clichés as he does, then I deem myself the right to use as many bad puns as I want. “Rush” is further proof of Howard’s over-praised talents and no amount of money or positive word-of-mouth will change that.

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12 Years A Slave

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on January 17, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Steve McQueen.
Screenplay: John Ridley.
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Scoot McNairy, Michael Kenneth Williams, Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Garret Dillanhunt, Kelsey Scott, Bryan Batt, Taran Killam.

My sentimentality stretches the length of a coin

After so vividly scrutinising the agony and the plight of Irish revolutionary Bobby Sands, in his 2008 directorial debut “Hunger” and following that up with an equally agonising portrait of sex addiction in 2011′s “Shame“, artist turned director Steve McQueen quickly established himself as a very raw and unflinching filmmaker. As did, his fearless leading actor Michael Fassbender. Now, with their third collaboration, it doesn’t look like they’ve had any change of heart and tackle the painful subject of slavery in 1840′s America.

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Fruitvale Station

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on January 7, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ryan Cooglar.
Screenplay: Ryan Cooglar.
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ariana Neal, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Keenan Cooglar, Marjorie Crump-Shears, Trestin George, Joey Oglesby.

I’m good, I’m good, I’m gonna be good“.

I have to admit that the true events that took place involving Oscar Grant on December 31st, 2009, weren’t all that familiar to me. I have vague memories of hearing something but there wasn’t very much UK media coverage about this day. As a result, I went into this film rather blind and for those that find themselves in the same situation as myself, I’d advise that they leave it that way. It makes the story all the more effective and hard-hitting but even if you are aware of this man and what happened, there’s still no denying how raw and effecting this film truly is.

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The Iceman * * *

Posted in Biography, Crime, Drama with tags on August 19, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ariel Vromen.
Screenplay: Ariel Vromen, Morgan Land.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi, James Franco, Stephen Dorff, John Ventimiglia, Ryan O’Nan, Danny A. Abeckaser, McKaley Miller, Megan Sherill.

What more can be said about the acting chops of Michael Shannon? Despite being a household name now, he’s still happy to deliver supporting roles in the likes of “Mud” and “Man of Steel” while managing to work within the time constraints of television with “Boardwalk Empire“. Thankfully though, he’s not adverse to the odd leading role and “The Iceman” is the type of film that allows him to fully embrace centre stage.

In the 1960′s, Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) was a quiet family man, who secretly worked as a porn lab technician until the New Jersey mob that ran his employment, shut him down and persuaded him to become a contract killer. For decades, Kuklinski would kill over 100 people and gain a reputation for his cold blooded professionalism, meanwhile keeping his wife (Winona Ryder) and kids completely in the dark about where their money came from.

Based on actual events, the story of Kuklinski is quite an intriguing one. This was a man who managed to separate his work and family life for so long that he was clearly a very manipulative and dangerous sociopath.
Much like Kuklinski’s victims, though, the film seems strangely lifeless. Most mob films have you on the edge of your seat at least once throughout their running times but “The Iceman” never really manages to do that. Ariel Vromen’s direction is flat and he poorly handles the script’s leaps in time; relying on consistently changing facial hair as a narrative device. It just doesn’t work and as a genre piece, it misses a real opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the similarly themed “Donnie Brasco“.
Where the films strengths lie, are in the performances; Mafia boss Roy Demeo, is captured ferociously by Ray Liotta, who seems to be the go-to-guy for mob figures these days, and the likes of Chris Evans impresses in an almost unrecognisable role as Robert “Mr. Freezy” Pronge – another hitman that Kuklinski gets involved with. Added to this, are smaller roles for James Franco, Stephen Dorff and an awkwardly ponytailed and moustachioed, David Schwimmer. Ultimately, though, it’s Shannon that keeps this film afloat. Despite a fascinating character, the role is surprisingly underwritten, yet Shannon still manages to deliver a detached and menacing portrayal. Quite simply, without his presence, this would would be just another generic, colour-by-numbers, wannabe.

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Good in places but ultimately, it’s restrained to the point of monotony. This is a film that has so much potential but squanders it on cliché and relies too heavily on it’s leading actor. Shannon delivers but he doesn’t really get anything back for his efforts.

Mark Walker

Raging Bull

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on August 16, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Paul Schrader, Mardik Martin.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, Mario Gallo, Frank Adonis, Joseph Bono, Frank Topham, Don Dunphy, Johnny Barnes, Michael Badalucco, John Turturro.

You punch like you take it up the ass

While shooting “The Godfather Part II“, Robert DeNiro found himself reading the book “Raging Bull: My Story“, based on the life of 1950′s middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta. It was a story he felt very passionate about bringing to the screen and took it to his good friend Martin Scorsese. Scorsese was, at first, reluctant to do a boxing movie as “Rocky” had recently been released to massive success and he himself, was going through a personal crisis at the time due to the failure of their previous collaboration “New York, New York” and his spiralling addiction to cocaine and lithium – leaving him hospitalised with internal bleeding. They brought in screenwriter’s Mardik Martin (“Mean Streets“) and Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver“) and the film eventually went ahead. It became a form of therapy for Scorsese and has since been lauded as a cinematic tour-de-force and voted – in numerous polls – as the best film from the 1980′s.

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Italian-American, middleweight boxer, Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) has inner demons and is prone to obsessive rage and sexual jealousy which threatens to destroy his relationship with his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) and brother/trainer Joey (Joe Pesci). In the ring, he a prizewinner but it’s outside it, that he seems to lose everything.

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On the surface, “Raging Bull” could be seen as just another boxing biopic, much like Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, Russell Crowe’s Jim “The Cinderella Man” Braddock or Will Smith’s Muhammad “Ali”. Scorsese and DeNiro’s vision is an altogether different one, though. It’s not their intention to glamourise LaMotta or deliver a conventional film about pugilism. Their intentions lie in exposing the man beyond the ring – where his real fights took place. The biggest opponent for “The Bronx Bull” was actually himself and his struggle with a raging, psychosexual insecurity and his propensity for self-destruction. It’s here that DeNiro fully takes centre stage in what is, unequivocally, his finest moment (and that’s saying something) throughout an illustrious career of exceptionally strong performances. His transformation is near miraculous; while researching and preparing for the role, De Niro actually spent the entire shoot with LaMotta so he could portray him accurately and went through extensive physical training, entering into three genuine Brooklyn boxing matches and winning two of them. According to La Motta, De Niro had the ability to be a professional fighter and that he would have been happy to have been his manager and trainer. Following this, production was stopped for two months so DeNiro could pile on 60 pounds to portray LaMotta in his older years. His commitment to the role (and project) has now become legendary and highly respected amongst his peers. Quite simply, DeNiro’s smouldering (and deservedly Oscar winning) display is an absolute masterclass in the profession.
Scorsese’s skills manifest in his operatic approach; he’s less interested in cranking up the tension or theatrics of the bouts and more focused on the punishing brutality of the sport. He employs the use of flashbulbs, and several different sound effects – like smashing glass and squelching watermelons – to achieve an overall crunching effectiveness. He’s aided immeasurably by Thelma Schoonmaker’s sharp editing technique and Michael Chapman’s sublime, monochrome, cinematography which serves the film as a whole in it’s mood and noir-ish atmosphere. If the bouts in the ring are claustrophobic then the same could be said for the ‘quieter’ moments outside it; LaMotta’s personal life is uncomfortably scrutinised in his abuse towards his wife and brother. There are very personal scenes of fraught and jealous conversation that are unbearably tense, and fully depict how much of a brute this man really was. It’s testament to the commitment of the entire cast and crew that this highly unappealing and unsympathetic individual can make such compelling viewing.

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A truly searing, cinematic classic, that addresses the unflinching, animalistic, behaviour of a man in need of absolution and redemption. It also happens to possess one of cinema’s most breathtaking and riveting performances. On this evidence, there’s no question that Robert DeNiro is a master of his craft and it’s arguably Martin Scorsese’s finest work as well.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: To achieve the feeling of brotherhood between the two lead actors, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci actually lived and trained with each other for some time before filming began. Ever since then, the two have been very close friends.

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford * * * * 1/2

Posted in Biography, Drama, History, Western with tags on August 30, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Andrew Dominik.
Screenplay: Andrew Dominik.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Paul Schneider, Sam Shepard, Garret Dillahunt, Mary-Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Parks, Ted Levine, Alison Elliott, James Carville, Tom Aldredge, Pat Healy, Nick Cave.
Narrator: Hugh Ross.

In 2000, director Andrew Dominik exploded onto the scene with low-budget but powerful biographical film “Chopper” about Australian criminal Mark Brandon Read. It not only heralded the arrival of actor Eric Bana but also a new an uncompromising director. For his second feature he tackled another biographical feature about one of the wild west’s most notorious gunslingers and this time, Dominik took his uncompromising nature even further.

Retelling of the last months in the life of the legendary outlaw Jesse James and how his reputation was faltering. His gang had disbanded – either dead or in prison and Jesse was beginning to suffer increasing paranoia. After carrying out a train robbery he heads for Kentucky, only to reappear in Missouri for a bank robbery. Two brothers; Charley (Sam Rockwell) and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) are part of his new gang but Robert has a dangerous and obsessive idolisation of Jesse and one that would finally be the outlaws undoing.

Few film’s ever get away with having a title as long as this one and even fewer get away with the manner in which this film is made. That’s testament to the skill of Andrew Dominik and the backing of Brad Pitt who refused to yield to Hollywood studios when they wanted to tinker with Dominik’s vision. Right from the opening, brutal, train robbery, this film’s style is apparent. It’s sense of realism is what commands your attention; it goes on to depict stark expansive landscapes, explosive bullet wounds and guns that don’t shoot straight but the actual gunslinging is kept to a minimum, while it focuses on the characters themselves. The pace of the film is deliberate, adding to the ethereal feel throughout and one that reminded me of the approach that director Terrence Malick would use. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is also a thing of absolute beauty. The entirety of every single frame of this picture is stunningly captured with meticulous attention to detail and Dominik’s direction is near flawless. He lingers long on shots and subtle facial expressions and captures the uneasiness in the characters and their situations. By using this methodical style, he manages to get under the skin of his two leading characters and allows both Pitt and especially Affleck the room to deliver sensational performances. Pitt is entirely commanding and charismatic, adding just enough of a glimmer of danger without losing the audience’s sympathy and Affleck is on top, creepy and unsettling, form. The chemistry between the two hints at all sorts of possibilities – including homoerotic tension. These two share an uneasy relationship and between them, there are contemporary issues at play; the nature of celebrity and hero worship and the difference between ‘the man and the myth‘. Even over 100 years ago they had this but although Dominik delivers this insight, he never fully explores it, leaving it all just a bit too ambiguous. I’m not looking for a film to spell everything out for me. On the contrary but for a film that languishes on detail and mood, it could have taken a little time to further explore these themes and the characters’ motivations. There’s a sense of bewilderment as to why James would even tolerate having Ford around when he, seemingly, knew that something wasn’t quite right about him. He was aware that sooner or later he would meet his impending fate but it’s unclear why he’d open himself up to it. Another area that lacks any attention, is the females in these men’s lives. They are fleetingly visited but are ultimately insignificant and the likes of Mary-Louise Parker and Zooey Deschannel are reduced to mere cameos. I can only assume that these issues could maybe make more sense in Dominik’s original 4 hour cut – that played at the Venice film festival before a widespread release reduced the film to it’s 2hour 40mins duration. That being said, this is still an aesthetically successful endeavour that, although not fully deserving of the masterpiece status that many consider it to be, it’s not far off it.

A contemplative and demanding film that requires the utmost patience. It’s highly ambitious, artistic and regularly poetic. Quite simply, it’s beautifully done and I found lots to admire but it meanders and like the title itself, it’s just a tad too long winded.

Mark Walker

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Machine Gun Preacher * * * *

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on July 10, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Marc Foster.
Screenplay: Jason Keller.
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michael Shannon, Michelle Monaghan, Souleymane Sy Savane, Kathy Baker, Madeline Carroll, Grant Krause, Reavis Graham, Peter Carey.

Marc Foster is quite a versatile director that seems to be able to turn his hand at many different genres. His fantastical “Finding Neverland” and comedic “Stranger than Paradise” are a far distance from say, his gritty debut “Monster’s Ball” or even his foray into Bond territory with “Quantum Of Solice“. With this movie, he has changed direction again and it’s no less accomplished than his previous film’s.

Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) is a drug using, violent biker who has just been released from prison. Upon his release he is soon back to his old wicked ways but having nearly murdered a man in defence of his best friend Donnie (Michael Shannon), he decides to turn his attention to God and find redemption. It’s at this point, that his spiritual journey begins and he finds himself taking up arms to liberate Sudanese refugee children from the LRA – the local militia, known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The very premise of this film seems like it’s has been concocted in some executive Hollywood office. I can just imagine it being pitched and how ridiculous it might have sounded. However, this is actually based on a true-story and the real Sam Childers is still, to this day, fighting for the freedom of African Children. That being said, I had never heard of Childers before or the ongoing struggle he is directly involved in and as a result I was left with the unfortunate title of this film and it’s slightly off-putting poster as my only information. After a few mindless action movies under his belt, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this recent Gerard Butler film as being in a similar vein. After all, the poster depicts him brandishing a rifle with the obligatory cowering child, hiding by his side. This very imagery and the more than dubious title completely misleads. It’s actually quite far from that type of film and more of a human and political drama. Thankfully, I still gave this a chance and left it feeling quite satisfied indeed. This is thanks in large to a charismatic and very powerful performance from it’s leading man. There is a real intensity to Butler’s delivery and it’s credit to the filmmakers that the flawed and distasteful behaviour of Childers is not ignored. He wasn’t someone that you’d like to cross paths with, yet Butler plays him with just enough edge and compassion – never fully losing your support or feelings of isolation from him. His transformation from violent misogynist to redeemed man of God and ultimately, saviour and mercenary is believable, if a little unexplained. Yes, there are flaws in the character development but it’s proof that given the right role, Butler can certainly deliver the goods. It’s his committed and passionate performance that forgives some big leaps in character progression. Ultimately, this fault is in the screenplay as the supporting characters also suffer; again, they are not bad performances but their roles are very underwritten. Michelle Monaghan is good but distant and this could be said even more for the very underrated Kathy Baker, who has absolutely nothing to do as Childers’ long suffering mother but the biggest waste of talent comes in the shape of Michael Shannon. With an Oscar nomination behind him for “Revolutionary Road” and a superb leading role in “Take Shelter“, this man should have been utilised more wisely. He still manages a presence but really, him and the aforementioned actresses melt into the background.
Slight over-length may also be an issue here but trying to condense anyone’s life story without causing some major bum-numbing amongst viewers can’t be an easy task.

This is a film primarily about one man – Sam Childers – and thankfully, the actor chosen to play him is more than up to the task. Despite some flaws, this is still an admirable and thoroughly involving biopic.

Mark Walker

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